I know it’s the new year, but I’m still stuck in the Christmas season of 2008. Specifically, I have more to say about my anniversary trip to New Orleans the weekend before Christmas.
You’ll have to bear with me until I get it out of my system.
Our first night in the French Quarter was to be casual and relaxed, but we had specific plans. We made our usual walk around the Quarter, only during this time of the year, we listened to the street performers playing Christmas tunes, instead of jazz and blues. While walking in Jackson Square, the storefronts were decorated with red and green wreaths mixed in with the purple and gold colors of the Mardi Gras and the people walking the streets seemed just a bit more friendly than usual.
Our dinner plans led us to The Gumbo Shop. I had avoided the Gumbo Shop for many years and I was soon to find out that was a big mistake.
Why had I avoided it? Illogically, it was the name. In my mind, the name, “Gumbo Shop” seemed too cliche’, too “touristy.” Surely, it was named that just to bring in diners that were only familiar with the name, “gumbo” and its relation to New Orleans. I was stupid.
And to add insult to stupidity, I had been searching for the “perfect cup of Gumbo” for six years while living on the Gulf Coast. I had tried gumbo in every restaurant I had been in that offered the dish over those years. I was always disappointed. The concoction was always too spicy, too watery, or too tasteless.
In addition, to the gumbo, my wife and I enjoyed a half-loaf of hot, crispy French bread and butter. But that was just the appetizer.
“The Gumbo Shop” located at 630 Saint Peter Street offered a combination platter of three of New Orleans traditional dishes as an entree’. A Large platter containing Shrimp Creole, Jambalaya and Red Beans and Rice put my mind at ease that this place was anything but “touristy”. If I had a complaint, it would only be that the Red Beans and Rice had a more pronounced smokey flavor than I was used to. I’m more used to a pol ska kielbasa sausage than the heavy smoked sausage used in the restaurant dish. It was a matter of my taste, and had nothing to do with the execution by the chef on his variation. I had no trouble with finishing my meal.
We declined the offer of dessert by the very attentive and friendly waiter who served us, merely because we ate our fill of the meal. I would recommend The Gumbo Shop for any tourist, or regular traveler to New Orleans.
After dinner, we “waddled and rolled” our bodies down the street to Pat O’Brien’s Bar. Pat O’s is another one of those tourist places that I had avoided, but this was a night to experience new things.
We sat in the gas-lamp and torch-lit courtyard as we watch the fountain waters rise from a gas flame. We listened to good music and we sipped our 4 ounces of rum mixed with 4 ounces of the fruity(think Hawaiian Punch)Hurricane mix.
It’s a dangerous drink. You can down 4 shots of liquor more quickly than sipping sweet tea on a hot day. I noticed several empty glasses on many tables and only could imagine the condition those drinkers would be in later on Bourbon Street.
But I would not imagine for long, as we left Pat O’Brien’s and headed onto Bourbon Street for a stroll among the good, clean, debauchery.
Bourbon Street has all the scenes you’ve seen in an episode of COPS:New Orleans or a “Girls Gone Wild” video. As I pointed to some revelers on a second-floor balcony of a club; an attractive lady completed a perfect “ringer” on my arm delivering a string of beads to me. She yelled along with me in mutual admiration of her feat.
At the end of Bourbon Street bordering Canal Street, we were treated to an impromptu dance party. A Street band was entertaining a small crowd standing in a circle and taking turns at taking the center stage to dance, to writhe, to booty-shake, and to two-step to the lively music. I was going to join the dancers and put them all to shame with my skills, but decided against the action. It would be better if I just took a photo of the moment.
We ended Friday night back at our starting point, The Hotel Montleone, and its very own Carousel Bar. For those that do not drink enough to make their heads spin, they can sit at the bar as it slowly rotates a full 360 degrees as the hour passes. I’m not sure how the bartender keeps track of his clients, as they slowly trade places along the bar’s carousel track. Luckily for the heavy drinkers, the stools do not rise up and down like a carousel pony.
We did not end up at the hotel’s bar, by accident or as a last resort. I had one more thing planned.
I had met The New Orleans Pianoman, John Autin, on MYspace and knew that he was a long-time fixture at The Carousel Bar. John plays a seven-foot Steinway with “sets” filled with Jazz, Blues, Rock, Funk, Standards, and Pop.
I had asked John via email for a small favor before we left for the weekend. He was only too happy to oblige. As we found a booth to sit in, I waved to John. He smiled.
Moments later, he announced to the crowd that a “young” couple was celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in New Orleans and that it was his pleasure to sing “Their” song.
My wife and I danced to “It Had To Be You” as if Harry Connick, Jr. was covering the song in “When Harry Met Sally”. We smiled, we laughed, we danced, we kissed.
It was the end of a very good first night in New Orleans.